To the outsider he appeared to function normally. But, behind the scenes Verissimo was a full-blown cocaine addict. Once a successful businessman earning six figures, he never dreamed he would be homeless at 42.
Verissimo, known to his peers as “trucker,” grew up in a drug-infested community in the heart of Toronto. His first joint was at nine—a dare. What followed was 26 years of drug abuse and criminal behaviour.
“When I owned my trucking company my cocaine use escalated,” says Verissimo. “The drug kept me hyper and awake for four to five days at a time so I could make my deliveries quicker to their final destination.
“I eventually met a girl, had a son and stayed clean for fives years. Then we separated. My son went with his mother. I was devastated. I couldn’t cope and fell back into my crack cocaine abuse. The drug made me feel like superman—like I could handle anything.
“I started to hang out with shady people. Before long I was involved in criminal activity. This led to a conviction and I was sent to Toronto’s Don Jail. For 4 ½ years I lived in a three-foot wide cell.
“When I was released I was homeless. I had nothing and no one to turn to. Drug addiction tears up families. My family had abandoned me years ago. While in prison I was told of The Salvation Army’s Turning Point, an addiction and rehabilitation program for men. I was familiar with the address. It was a shelter for the homeless in my old neighbourhood.
“I called my sister for help, something I had never done before. I was crying uncontrollably. ‘Please help me, I’m homeless.’ She agreed to take me to the shelter. I was now in a safe environment and on a treatment plan.
“In May 2009 I will be one year clean. I returned to school and am a certified welder. I replaced my bad friends with good ones and every chance I get I direct another addict through The Salvation Army shelter doors. There is hope behind those doors.
“I didn’t set out to be an addict or a criminal. I just wanted a thrill and to feel part of the crowd. I didn’t expect the lifelong misery that followed. I was a low-life when I walked through the doors of The Salvation Army, yet they treated me with dignity and respect.
“The Salvation Army helped me turn my dream of new life into reality.”